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5 people launched a skiff in Juneau. Now 2 are missing.

  • Author: Lisa Demer
  • Updated: December 6, 2017
  • Published December 6, 2017

A Coast Guard Station Juneau small-boat crew and Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew search Gastineau Channel in Juneau on Wednesday for two men in the water after their skiff capsized late Tuesday. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios)

The Coast Guard suspended its search Wednesday evening for two men missing after a skiff overturned Tuesday night.

Five people — two women and three men, plus a dog — were in the small jon boat when it took on water and capsized about 9 p.m. They were heading to a vessel anchored near Aurora Harbor, said Vince Grochowski, a civilian Coast Guard search-and-rescue controller based in Juneau.

The women made it to shore and one of the men got on top of the capsized boat, where the Coast Guard found him, Grochowski said.

James Cole, 50, and Sheridan "Scott" Stringer, 48, were still missing Wednesday evening, the Coast Guard said. The agency said it searched 58 square miles in the Gastineau Channel for more than 20 hours before calling off the search around 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The women walked and swam to shore. Maybe the men did the same, Grochowski said earlier Wednesday.

"Maybe they are high and dry somewhere," he said. The tide was coming in, he said, so they could be stranded on a small island or mud flat.

A Coast Guard Air Station Sitka MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew searches Gastineau Channel in Juneau for two men in the water after their skiff capsized late Tuesday. (Jon-Paul Rios / U.S. Coast Guard)

Initially, authorities didn't know so many people were on the boat, he said. The scene unfolded gradually, he said.

The Juneau Police Department got a call Tuesday night from a man at Aurora Harbor who heard screams for help in the direction of the Juneau Yacht Club, Grochowski said. But the man couldn't see anyone.

Police sent out an officer and contacted the Coast Guard. The police officer noticed the man on the capsized boat and believed a second man was in the water. The Coast Guard launched its small boat and picked up the man, who told them a second man had disappeared into the dark, cold water.

"At that time we were under the assumption that it was just two individuals in a small boat that we found that was overturned, with the one person we pulled out," Grochowski said.

But soon they learned from police that two women who made it shore were also part of the group, and that two men — not one — were missing. A dog with the group also was rescued, according to public radio station KTOO.

According to initial reports, no one was wearing a life jacket, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard searched with its helicopter, a small boat stationed in Juneau and a second small boat from the Coast Guard Cutter John McCormick — a vessel too big for that portion of the channel, Grochowski said. The Coast Guard helicopter flew most of the night looking for any sign of the missing men, stopping to switch out crews and refuel.

Juneau Harbor Department, Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Juneau police and SEADOGS — Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search — also assisted in the search.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the two men during this challenging time," Capt. Phil Thorne, Sector Juneau commander, said in a statement. "It's a very difficult decision to suspend a search and we always make these decisions with care and consideration."

The Anchorage Daily News' Laurel Andrews contributed to this report.

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